The Los Angeles Rams vaulted to the top spot in the sports news stream this afternoon when they announced they had made a head coaching change by dismissing Jeff Fisher after a 4-9 start to the 2016 season. The Rams lost their fourth straight game on Sunday and they had lost eight of their last nine games.
The reason why this move came as a bit of a surprise is that the team and Fisher had just recently confirmed that Fisher and General Manager Les Snead had both signed contract extensions (Fisher was given an extension through the 2018 season). The Rams owner, Stan Kroenke, spoke today about the firing of Coach Fisher and explained that the thought process at the time of the extension (which actually was signed before this season began) was to reward Fisher for making the transition of the franchise from St. Louis to their relocation this season to Los Angeles. The Rams are set to move into a huge new stadium facility in a few years and they thought Fisher could lead them into that stage in their progression in Southern California.
This season, however, was a spectacular failure for Fisher who has been dogged by on-field and off-field issues all season. The first issue was the decision to play Case Keenum at quarterback and bench the Rams top draft pick, Jared Goff, which then led to the media pressing Fisher about playing Goff. The team had traded future draft selections to move up to the top overall spot in the draft to select Goff and Fisher kept him on the bench.
When the media pressured Fisher about this situation, it was essentially discovered that he was against the decision to trade all of those future assets to move up to select Goff. The selection of Jared Goff was supposed to represent the future of the franchise in their new Los Angeles chapter, and that player was not in the plans for the head coach of the team, that was the first sign of trouble for Fisher.
Next, the play of the team after a surprising start, began to spiral downward. The players looked unfocused, and the play turned sloppy and undisciplined in all three phases: offense, defense, and special teams. The new fan base in L.A. grew weary quickly and called for Goff to get a shot at quarterback.
Coach Fisher, under what I would assume was intense pressure from the front office and the owner, relented and started Jared Goff. The situation went from bad to worse as the turnover ratio for the team ballooned and the Rams dropped their next four games. It was unfair to Goff too, since he had not seen the field at all, and then he is dropped into the middle of an already rocky season, and he is told to essentially learn the offense “on the go”.
The offensive woes continued with the Rams getting blown out by the Atlanta Falcons yesterday in front of a dwindling home crowd. The comments by running back Todd Gurley after the game are summed up by him calling the Rams “a middle school offense”, and in my opinion Gurley should not be saying anything to the media to criticize anything because his play has been well below the expectations, his performance has been terrible this season.
The offense is most probably a main reason why the decision to fire Jeff Fisher was made at this point because if the front office was lukewarm about keeping Fisher as their coach, the sooner they transition the new offensive scheme for Jared Goff to learn, the better off they will be in the long term. I have seen this with other teams and their young quarterbacks, the management wants to avoid having them learn multiple systems, and stability is needed for success.
Furthermore, Fisher had the whole ordeal with Eric Dickerson which unraveled off the field which became a huge distraction for the team. Dickerson is a Hall of Fame running back who was a staple of the L.A. Rams in their original run in Southern California before the team relocated to St. Louis in the mid-1990s.
Dickerson was seeking some on-field passes for himself and his friends, Fisher reportedly denied the request, and a rather vocal (at least Dickerson was) and public feud between the two men ensued. Fisher was never going to win a fight with a Rams former player that carries as much clout as Dickerson, so I knew this was going to be yet another “black mark” against Fisher.
The Rams were blown out yesterday by Atlanta, as I mentioned earlier, and with that loss Coach Fisher tied Dan Reeves for the most losses in an NFL coaching career in the history of the league. It was a matter of time before the hammer was going to drop on Fisher, I thought it was going to be after the season on that Monday where characteristically coaching changes are made.
In the interim, John Fassel, the son of former New York Giants head coach, Jim Fassel, will step in and guide the team. The Rams have a game on the road in Seattle on Thursday night, which also surprised many with the timing of this decision today, it is a short week for the team to prepare. This change being made at this point translates into a situation where reading between the lines it had to have been very rough behind the scenes over the past few days.
The aftermath beyond these last three games of the 2016 debacle of a season for the L.A. Rams is that the team with a multi-billion dollar new stadium being constructed along with a huge retail and entertainment district surrounding it, which is dubbed “NFL Disneyland” needs to make a big splash again. The Rams front office needs to hire a big name to replace Fisher. They need a big time offensive minded head coach to install a system that complements Jared Goff, who they have committed significantly toward being their franchise quarterback.
Those names are Mike Shanahan, Jon Gruden, and Jim Harbaugh. The plan, according to reports from ESPN, NFL Network, and others if Shanahan was hired his son, Kyle, would join him in L.A. and would take the reins as head coach in a few years.
The most intriguing name, whether you like him or not, is Harbaugh. In my own opinion, I do not think that Gruden has interest in leaving his very lucrative ESPN commentary job to coach again, or else he would have done so already. I would also have some concerns if I were the Rams about whether Gruden still had the fire to coach after being away from the sideline for so long.
The Rams roster is not very good and needs a lot of work to build toward a playoff contender, let alone a championship contender. I would think Gruden would be interested in a team that was closer to winning than one that will take a bit of rebuild before it can turn that corner.
Harbaugh, though, is a name that is going to gain traction because he has lived and coached on the West Coast with Stanford and the San Francisco 49ers, and he had great success at both stops. In his current situation at the University of Michigan there have been some significant bumps in the road in that situation because Harbaugh wants to do things his way, and Michigan has resisted completely handing him the keys to do so.
The Rams, if they were very aggressive, could pry Harbaugh away from his alma mater, especially if they put enough money on the table. The fact that Stan Kroenke is a billionaire and has a significant amount of resources dedicated to making the Rams a part of the fabric of L.A. again is leverage for the next coach to utilize as well.
In a related note, now that Fisher is dismissed, Eric Dickerson has stated that he will attend Rams games again, and for whatever it is worth, he just started following Jim Harbaugh on Twitter.
The Rams ownership and management made a bold push to the NFL to gain relocation into the coveted L.A. market before any other team, and their first season there has been a flop. They need to make another bold move by naming the right man to coach the team moving forward and transition this team into one that will capture the consciousness of the fan base in Los Angeles. They need to right this ship before it sinks completely.